Nick Clegg's tough task to retain the Sheffield Hallam seat hinges on student vote

In partnership with Sheffield Hallam University

Lucy Hodges
Thursday 23 April 2015 00:07 BST
Whether or not Clegg loses the seat Hallam will be one of the biggest battles under the spotlight on election night
Whether or not Clegg loses the seat Hallam will be one of the biggest battles under the spotlight on election night (Getty Images)

Students may constitute only 3 per cent of the vote but they could tip the balance of power at the forthcoming general election, according to analysis from an independent higher education think tank.

Students could affect the result in about 10 seats, says the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi).

“For students to make a difference, they must register to vote, turn out to vote and live in marginal constituencies,” says Hepi’s director Nick Hillman.

This raises the question of whether students will want to vote or whether they have become too disillusioned by politics. Do they, for example, feel let down by the Liberal Democrats’ broken promise on tuition fees? The answer is no, if the opinion of Tom Harpham, a third year politics student at Sheffield Hallam University, is representative.

Could Clegg's broken fees promises play a part? (Getty)
Could Clegg's broken fees promises play a part? (Getty) (Getty Images)

“While it’s true that the student vote is moving away from the Lib Dems towards the Greens, I wouldn’t say it is moving towards Labour as a result of students being fed up with the Lib Dems’ volte face on tuition fees,” he says. “It’s simply that Labour is better at galvanizing student support than other parties.”

Students always have been, and will continue to be, engaged with politics, Harpham believes. And social media has accentuated this. “It has given this generation the platform to debate politics, campaign and enact social change on a scale that has never been seen before,” he says.

In Sheffield the student vote is being watched particularly closely because the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is fighting for his political life in the constituency of Sheffield Hallam. At the beginning of April an opinion poll from Lord Ashcroft put Clegg on 34 per cent, two points behind Labour.

The seat has one of the highest proportions of university graduates of any constituency in Britain: 44 per cent have a degree. Many employees at Sheffield’s two universities, especially academics, live in the constituency. And the east of the constituency takes in the University of Sheffield’s main student village where many undergraduates live.

No one knows how many students are registered to vote in the seat but the signs are that student turnout will be high. “I believe students are angry about fees and it may be that they will register to vote to show their discontent,” says Dr Andy Price, head of Sheffield Hallam’s politics department.

“There is a real upswing of interest in politics among students.”

Whether Clegg loses the seat or not, Sheffield Hallam will be one of the biggest battles under the spotlight on election night.

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